Production: Innovative production concept

Jun 27, 2018

On 27 October 1997, then French president, Jacques Chirac, and the incumbent German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, inaugurated the smartville production plant in the town of Hambach in Lorraine. Since this date, the plant has stood for the success story of an innovative vehicle concept that continues to set benchmarks in the automobile industry to this day.

The smart plant in Hambach has been demonstrating its capabilities and innovative prowess day in, day out, ever since it opened 20 years ago. The plant currently has a direct workforce of 800, with roughly the same number of people employed by the on-site system suppliers.

The alliance has since been broadened: there is close cooperation between the smart plant in Hambach and Novo Mesto, the Renault production location in Slovenia at which the new smart forfour is produced under the partnership agreement between smart and Renault. The involvement of the production and quality experts from the Hambach plant ensures that all vehicles of the new smart generation meet the smart quality standards in full, irrespective of where they are produced.

"smartville": an innovative production concept

"The Hambach plant and its team have been mastering copious challenges for 20 years now," says Serge Siebert, head of smart France, who took part in the opening of the plant as a young engineer. "Our employees continue to demonstrate their adaptability and innovative capabilities on a regular basis in preparing for the projects and the future challenges of an all-electric product portfolio and innovative Industry 4.0 production methods," Siebert continues.

A bird's-eye view explains why the Hambach production site as a whole is also referred to as "smartville": at the centre of the industrial complex with a total area of 68 hectares is the central smart building that is surrounded by separate halls for the system partners. These produce modules and attend to their delivery to the final assembly process or the logistics set-up.

Final assembly operations are housed in the central building that has the shape of a "plus" sign. The vehicles travel on the production line through the four "branches" with their respective assembly stations. Thanks to the long external walls of these branches all modules and parts can be delivered directly to the assembly stations for installation at precisely the right time ('just in time') and in the correct sequence ('just in sequence') for each individual vehicle. The system partners supply their components directly via transport bridges, further volumes are supplied via the numerous truck docking stations. A multi-storey administration building is situated in the middle of the "plus" sign.

System partners on-site include Magna Chassis (tridion safety cell), Magna Uniport (doors, tailgates), Faurecia (polypropylene bodypanels), ThyssenKrupp (rear axle drive module and front axle) and SAS (cockpit). Two additional logistics partners round off the spectrum of operations covered on-site: Seifert Logistics attends to supplying the parts to the assembly lines and transport management, while MLT Mosolf is responsible for delivery of the vehicles to the smart's 46 markets around the world.

In 2012, the Hambach plant was the first plant in Europe to begin the series production of vehicles with electric drives in parallel with conventional models powered by combustion engines. The 3rd generation of the smart fortwo is currently being produced in Hambach. All variants roll off the same production line - coupé and cabrio, both with combustion engine and electric drive.

Electric smart: comprehensive environmental programme

The ecological responsibility of the smart brand is also reflected in the energy and environmental concept which has been developed at the smartville production plant. From the outset, the plant has had its own gas-fired combined heat and power station, which provides it with heat and covers around 25 percent of its power requirements. The waste water is treated directly in a sewage treatment plant employing membrane filter technology which is located at the production site. The quality of the treated water is better than the natural bodies of water into which it is discharged.

For the production of the current third-generation smart fortwo, the company has additionally invested in a new, environment-friendly wet painting plant to replace the previously employed powder coating system. In addition to shortening the duration of the painting process, this also increases the possible paint colour spectrum substantially. smart customers are now able to choose from a broader colour range for the tridion safety cell.

To mark the 20-year anniversary on 27 October 2017, the Hambach plant commissioned the first photovoltaic generator to enable the production and use of solar power, thereby opening up the next chapter in the ambitious environmental programme.

This programme comprises a number of major projects:

  • Since the beginning of 2018, 100 percent of the required electricity has come from renewable energy sources (hydropower, photovoltaics and wind), rather than nuclear power stations.
  • Following the acquisition of bio-methane to the amount of 10 GWh p.a. instead of natural gas, the plant will reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases from the paint shop by 75% in 2018.

In all, these two measures will cut greenhouse gas emissions (direct and indirect) at the smartville location by 31%. This rate is likely to increase substantially in the coming years, in view of the rapid development of biogas plants in France.

A similar picture applies to waste management at the industrial site. smartville's waste recycling rate has improved markedly in recent years. The overall waste recycling rate rose from 82 to 100 in 2017. By way of example, food waste from the factory canteen is now delivered directly to a biogas plant near to the plant. The biogas is subsequently fed into a heating distribution grid.